The Link Between Rearing Practices and Hereditary Disease

Every day families across the country decide they want to bring a puppy into their home. The focus tends to be on WHERE the dog comes from but very few people are asking questions about the history of the parents and grandparents of the puppy they are interested in purchasing. However, people need to be conscious of the fact that the care given to the puppy’s predecessors will have a significant impact on the puppy’s future health and wellbeing.

In many cases the family history of the dog is not known and there is no way to track that information down. But when dogs are acquired from breeders who have been working with particular lines for a length of time they can often give buyers very detailed information about the ancestors. I’m not talking about titles and awards; I’m referring to the medical and care history.

The environment and lifestyle of an animal has the power to affect its genome by way of epigenetic changes. The DNA sequence itself remains unaffected but epigenetic modifications alter how a gene is expressed, including completely “turning on” or “turning off” a gene. You can think of the DNA sequence as the letters that form sentences in a paragraph and epigenetics as the punctuation marks which have the ability to change the meaning of the words entirely.

In bees, queens and workers both develop from genetically identical larvae. Through the intake of different diets the larvae will mature into either a queen (capable of reproduction) or a worker bee (unable to reproduce). Their phenotype’s (physical traits) are very different even though their genotype’s (genetic makeup) are 100% identical. This is just one example of the remarkable power of epigenetics.

Twins are genetically identical, but don’t always develop the same health issues. If health was all predetermined by genetics, we would expect to see that twins would always develop the same health issues as one another. Early in life the environment of twins is the same. In the womb and being cared for in the same manner, eating the same foods, living in the same conditions. As twin’s age and their lifestyles diverge from one another so do the epigenetic changes between them and therefore their health outcomes.

Somewhat troubling, is the fact that epigenetic changes do not merely affect the individual (whether human or animal); they have the capacity to be inherited across generations. This means you could give your puppy the best care for his canine species but you are still going to be at the mercy of any inherited epigenetic changes caused by how his parents or grandparents were cared for.

Not only are breeders responsible for the puppies they are raising, but their choices will also impact future generations. The practice of naturally rearing animals is of paramount importance for the future health of our companion animals.

I’ve had a number of dog owners tell me that they have fed generic dog kibble from the grocery store and it appeared that their dog was healthy and lived a long life. They conclude that there is no problem with feeding this type of food. Well ONE, they were fortunate to avoid major illness and TWO if this dog has reproduced, her offspring will be less healthy because of the food she ate during her life. I feel we are close to the tipping point now. There is simply so much damage that has been done over the generations with poor nutrition, outrageous numbers of vaccinations and heaps of medication being prescribed among other things that few animals are healthy today. How many dogs get to five years of age without skin problems or digestive problems? Many do not even survive to see their 5th birthday. We need a reality check. We have to acknowledge WHY this is happening. It is NOT NORMAL and the animals under our care deserve much more than a life of chronic illness. It’s past time that we start addressing the damage that has already been done and work collectively to reverse it before we can no longer recover the health of our domestic animals.

The Dutch famine that occurred from December 1944 to April 1945 saw adults subsisting on just 400 to 800 calories per day (The US Department of Agriculture recommends 2,200 to 2,800 calories per day for moderately active men and 1,800 to 2,200 for women). A study carried out on the descendants of the people who experienced this five month shortage of food showed significant epigenetic changes which were still present up to six decades later. These unanticipated effects in subsequent generations included increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other disorders. A poor diet, stress, trauma and toxin exposure have all been proven to increase the prevalence of health problems not only for an individual’s children but also through the lives of the grand-children, great grand children and so on down the line. Studies on genetically identical mice have shown similar results. In his study of cats, Francis Pottenger found that after they had been fed cooked foods for 3 generations, it took another four generations of feeding raw foods for the cats to return to good health.

Puppy buyers look to us for our knowledge and experience and companies in the pet industry seek our business. We have the power to effect change by where we spend our dollars and by promoting natural rearing to all our puppy buyers. As more allopathically minded pet owners and breeders see the continued decline of their animals and become aware of the wonderful results of natural rearing they will want that for themselves.

The practice of rearing animals naturally can often be challenging but it is critical for the long term survival of the species. As witnesses to the vitality and great health our naturally raised animal’s posses we can educate others on how to achieve these outcomes with their own animals.

By Jennifer Lee
Tailcreek Mastiffs